The prohibited path

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The prohibited path

Satwik Shastry and his friends may have termed their sojourn into Bannerghatta National Park a ‘trek’.

But N Devraj, the deputy conservator of forests at the park, is of a different opinion. “This wasn’t trekking,” he says, firmly, “This was, quite simply, illegal entry. These boys were trespassers.”

Harsh though this verdict may seem, it’s quite true. Bannerghatta National Park isn’t a free-for-all hiking zone for outdoor trekking enthusiasts to indulge in their passion. In fact, unlike the neighbouring zoo and butterly park, it can prove to be quite a dangerous day trip. Visitors can be taken into the park for safari rides in well-caged vans, but treading through it unaccompanied and on foot is strongly prohibited.

The reasons for this are obvious; while the park faces Bangalore City on one side, its borders are connected to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary — known for its wildlife population — on the other. The park is well-known to be an elephant corridor and also plays home to a selection of wild animals like leopards and panthers. Given the likelihood of running into some sort of danger, it’s no wonder that entry into the park is strictly controlled.

This prohibition may seem simply enough. The problem, however, arises because of the geography of the region. As Devraj explains, the perimeter of the forest may be fenced, but it still has an arterial road cutting through it, one which cannot be blocked off. “This road, which passes through the Sudahalli Lac Reserve, is always kept open. There is a settlement on the other side of the park, within the Ragihalli-Shivahalli area, and the villagers here use this road as their only connection to the City. But we’ve laid down clear rules — although they are allowed to use the road to cross the forest area, they aren’t allowed to venture off the road. And the same rule applies for everyone else,” clarifies Devraj.

The sad truth, however, is that there is very little that the park authorities can do to stop people who are determined to break off the road and trek into the forest.

“We have staff at the entry points to the park, but they can’t check what people are doing once they are inside. Of course, after this incident, we will increase patrolling,” he adds.

Narayan Swamy, the superintendent of the park, explains that there are certain areas which are open to hiking — but under strict supervision.

“Anyone interested has to come to the office, fill in a form and get a receipt. They have to register one day in advance. If they do, there are certain routes open to them — but only accompanied by the staff from the park authorities. These routes are outside the actual area of the national park and are closer to the zoo,” he says.

Adhwaith Manohar, an avid trekker, confirms that the City’s trekking community is well aware of this norm. “I haven’t been trekking to Bannerghatta, but I have gone to other forests. In any such area, it’s essential to take prior permission from the forest department before going on — they will specify certain trekking routes which you can’t go beyond. Generally, anyone who is trying to enter a forest area is stopped by guards who explain this to them, unless they slip in through a village or neighbouring settlement,” he explains.

For the park authorities, last week’s mishap has been a first. Devraj is quick to point out that keeping people from trespassing isn’t really the job of park authorities — they’re supposed to monitor elephant movement in and out of the park. But given this incident, it’s evident that some rethinking is required.

 “We’ve never had such a case before. Of course, a case has been lodged against the two boys and an enquiry is going on — but we do not know what will happen next,” concludes Narayan Swamy.

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